Review: Zac Brown Band at Cruzan
Motivational speaker Tony Robbins, who likely knows very little about country music, has  long offered this advice: Carry strong passions and feelings in your life, because the strongest conviction in the room usually permeates into everybody else.
Saturday night, that person was Zac Brown, taking an outdoor concert crowd of almost 20,000, grabbing us by the throat, placing us into his songs and giving us a piece of himself to take home.
To say Brown entertained the sold-out crowd at the Cruzan Amphitheater in West Palm Beach is not quite accurate. We were involved. When he bounced through "Keep Me in Mind," we bounced with him. When he sangs "Highway 20 Ride," the story of a divorced man making a regular drive to visit his child, we ached.
But, yeah, the show was entertaining as heck, including in the opener, Charlie Daniels' "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." He didn't stop to take a breath all night, and while I like the personal stories, I was OK without them this time. (Note that he did have news, though, he didn't spill. He became a father for a fifth time on May 5, to an 11-pound, 7-ounce boy. Nope, it didn't come out of the womb with a beard.)
I gotta admit, I'm writing from the point of view of someone who sings along with Brown's music, but is not fanatical about it. But the folks I sat near  jumped all-in with both feet. Both men and women in the lower section stood for most of the night, singing along with Brown, who  a.) is a much better singer than I thought, and b.) cleaned up the beard thing so that it's kind of studly looking, rather than loose and dangly. (Much of his band had beards and hats and such, giving it the rural Georgia feel that rings true to Brown's roots.)
Quick note to those going Sunday night (ticket still available via Ticketmaster.com): I don't know know what he's going to play, nor in what order, so don't go by this report. Two previous songlists, from his shows in Lincoln, Neb., and Tampa, indicated that "Chicken Fried" was his finale song. But Saturday night, he burned it off at 8:30 p.m. He chose "Toes" as his official finale, although he and his band returned in skeleton costumes to play "Day for the Dead," Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and Tom Petty's "Running Down a Dream" -- pushing his show to 11:08 p.m., a rarity at Cruzan, which is pretty strict about an 11 p.m. cutoff time.
Saturday's surprises included Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," Billy Joel's "Piano Man," and David Allan Coe's 1975 singalong "You Never Even Called Me By My Name."
We got a taste of songs from his new CD, the Grohl Sessions Vol. 1, released a couple of weeks ago. Former Foo Fighter/Nirvana star David Grohl produced the album, which Brown has said carried a more aggressive edge than his previous stuff. 
Brown played for 2 1/2 hours, taking a 10-minute break partway through -- folks at Cruzan like to knock down the drinks, and many got in a bathroom break/last call during that opportunity.
At a venue that draws country's superstars -- Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan this year -- only Brown is in a place that'll sell the same venue in back-to-back nights. Let's let that fact settle in and carry any argument on his place in fans' hearts.
Kacey Musgraves, who I had eagerly anticipated, opened the show, with songs that don't quite placate alcohol-fueled fans who are looking to jump out of their seat and sing along. This could be a long-term problem for Musgraves, 25, who those around me described as "boring." That's way harsh, and I hate the term "stage presence," so I'll just say her a beautiful-but-not-overtly-sexy young woman whose best songs are bitter and require listening may not be a match for those looking for a Saturday night out.
She didn't exactly help her cause. For example, her album, "Same Trailer, Different Park," won a huge ACM for best album(!) of 2013, but she was far too polite to share that fact -- nor play off the Wall Street Journal calling her lyrics "controversial." Some of those who are less of a country fan may not understand how damn good her stuff is. They just see  neon cacti and a backup band in electric-light suits, and perhaps they don't get  the joke.
Contact Nick Sortal at NSortal@SouthFlorida.com. For all music news, bookmark SouthFlorida.com's music page.

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